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The late Bart Johnson remembering Goose Gossage and Terry Forster

The Chicago Baseball Museum is presenting classic interviews from the archives of CBM historian George Castle’s “Diamond Gems” syndicated weekly baseball radio show, which aired from 1994 to 2010.

This edition features a 1998 interview with Bart Johnson, one of a trio of home-grown hard-throwers the White Sox produced at the dawn of the 1970s. Bart, nicknamed “Mr. Smoke,” recalls the start of his career and that of Hall of Famer Goose Gossage and lefty Terry Forster. Johnson went on to a three-decade-long run as a scout, thanks to support from Sox GM Roland Hemond.

We have a transcript of the interview. You can also listen to the interview at…

Transcript of 1998 interview with Bart Johnson

George Castle: Hi, I’m George Castle, Historian for the Chicago Baseball Museum. We’re presenting another series of historic interviews for my longtime diamond gems syndicated baseball radio show. Today we go back to 1998. We interviewed the man once known as “Mr. Smoke” with the White Sox, Bart Johnson, with his big leg kick and heavy fastball. Johnson had one of the best arms in baseball in the early 1970’s. But injuries slowed his career. Johnson recalls Goose Gossage and Terry Forster, his two fellow Sox fireballers and how old Sox boss Roland Hemond got him started on a decades long scouting career.

Looking back when you came up, Terry Forster came up. Goose Gossage came up, do you think any organization has ever produced a trio of hard throwers in such a short period of time as the Sox at the beginning of the seventies?

Bart Johnson: Well, you got to look at the Mets when Nolan Ryan was there with Koosman and Seaver, But I wouldn’t put myself in a class of Forster and Gossage, but the two of them were something special.

George: In terms of fastballs, did they have accurate radar guns then?

Bart: They didn’t. They did a thing with Honeywell, or somebody did something with Nolan Ryan when he did throw 100 miles an hour finally. I think he threw 100 point for and against us in Anaheim. But they did that from the press box, and it was complicated, big machine kind of like the old computer type theory, so they didn’t have those guns when I pitched.

George: What would you estimate was your fastest speed when you first came up and Goose’s fastest speed and Terry’s fastest speed?

Bart: I thought Terry through the hardest. I don’t really know. I’d say I had a hit 93, 94, 95 at times. Actually. Gossage, I thought was more like a 90 guy when he first came up, but he only played seven games in his high school senior year in Colorado, so he never had much baseball in him. Terry and I came from California, and of course, we played a lot more than him. But Gossage went home, got married, and about two years after he signed, he came back, and he was throwing 95 plus.

George: How do you explain that?

Bart: I just think he physically matured. And like I said, he didn’t play much in high school, his arm got stronger, his body got bigger, and he just grew into his size.

George: You had a big, big motion and a big leg kick. Did you think that that was actually intimidating the batters and made your fastball even appear faster?

Bart: No, I really didn’t do it for that reason. I grew up in California, like I said, and Juan Marichal was with the Giants at the time, and I just copied him.

George: Any regrets? I know you had some injuries, not long into your career, that you could have had even a greater career like Goose, and Terry had a pretty fair career. You look back on it and wonder what could have happened had you not gotten hurt?

Bart: Well, I missed all of ’75 and I think that hurt a lot. I hurt my back and I think the biggest part of that was I came back all right. But I had sat for a year and the muscles had atrophied a little bit and I never felt like I threw as hard after that ‘75 season. But of course, everybody liked to have a better career. I’m sure Gossage would like to have a better career for that matter. He’d probably still like to be pitching knowing him. But I’m satisfied with what happened. Everybody talks about the money and this and that, but you just got to be in the right place at the right time. And I’m fortunate enough to still be in the game.

George: How did you get involved in scouting?

Bart: Well, I got out of baseball in ’80, and I went home, and I didn’t have a job and Roland Hemond called my house in Northern California and asked me if I’d like to scout in Northern California. He didn’t realize I was living in Northern California. He had his secretary call me and he thought I was still in Southern California. So, he asked me if I’d move to Northern California like 400 miles away. I said, “I’m already here. Let’s go to work.” Because like I said, I had played in Mexico a couple years. And I was literally in the offseason, the Mexican season and not working. So, it was the perfect transition.

George: How did you end up moving from the Sox to the Devil Rays?

Bart: Well, the Devil Rays called and got permission from Ron Schuler to talk to me last October, and we just came up with a deal. They gave me a nice contract and an extended amount of time and a little more authority, and I thought it was a good move.

George: Two final questions. I know you got to get down and scout. Looking at that Sox team that was assembled around the Dick Allen era, any sense of regret that you didn’t go all the way? Beat out the A’s one year and win the division because you had the seemingly a pitching setup, you ended up getting Ken Henderson and then you had the giant wave of injuries that struck in 1973 with Henderson and Allen getting hurt.

Bart: Henderson, Allen and Bill Melton got hurt before that. So, I certainly wish I could have contributed more to that ‘72 Club. I had a knee operation and I forget what my record was, but I had a horrible year. And I felt all along if I had an average season or a good season, we would have won it. So, there’s some frustration there and, you know, that’s part of the game.

George: Why do you think Campy Campanero said this thing about trying to attack six foot six pitchers, first you and then Lerrin LaGrow?

Bart: He felt like everybody’s throwing at him, but I think the instance that we got in a fight (I know you have a tape of it) it was in about the eighth inning, and I think I had a no hitter going at the time. So, he came out halfway to the mound, and he went back and got his bat and started coming out again. And by that time, I think Eddie Herman jumped on him. So, there wasn’t much of a fight, but Campy Campanero, I never figured him out.

>> Listen to the interview at…

Thanks to Roxanne Chumacas for audio transcript.